Archive for the ‘ Training ’ Category

Is This The Best You Can Do?

Friday, December 15th, 2017

Swimming New Zealand is really beginning to piss me off. That is probably not altogether accurate. The truth is that the performance of corporate Swimming New Zealand has been worth getting pissed off about for quite some time. But just now their behaviour is especially annoying.

Last week the sport experienced two disasters. Trials in Auckland and Queensland failed to add a single swimmer to the Commonwealth Games team. Even worse, New Zealand’s best swimmers were a long way (4%) from achieving the qualifying times. Swimming in New Zealand has never been in a worse position.

When things go wrong like this it is vital to examine carefully and honestly what has gone wrong and quickly take corrective action. Let me give you an example. A few years ago I used to fly myself around New Zealand visiting our company’s offices. My airplane was a lovely little single engine Piper Arrow, EKR. On my way back to Wellington one day an oil pipe fractured and the engine stopped working. I was at 9500 feet above the Parapara Ranges, north of Whanganui. Without question I owe my life to the evaluation and action procedures drilled into me during my pilot training years in Palmerston North. I landed safely in a convenient barley field.

A few years later I experienced a similar crisis in my swimming life. Toni Jeffs had just won a bronze medal in what was then the world short course championships. I coached her for the Barcelona Olympic Games and it was terrible. Toni ended up twenty something in a race that she should have been in the top eight final. What had gone wrong? I spent a day with Arthur Lydiard going through the training Toni had done prior to the Games. The honest evaluation and action procedure was as relevant as it had been in the Piper Arrow. We quickly identified the mistakes I had made with Toni’s preparation. They have never happened again.

Well, at Swimming New Zealand this week, the engine stopped. The sport underperformed on a scale at least the equivalent of my Barcelona problems. But in Swimming New Zealand I see no signs of the honest and open evaluation so important in those situations. Instead there is silence. The organization goes into hiding. The results are not even reported. The organization is practising the perfect manifestation of mushroom management – “say nothing, keep them in the dark and feed them shit”.

Serious problems do not get solved that way.

The Swimming New Zealand website illustrates the point. The nine headlines on their news feed discuss the 2018 epic swim to go ahead as planned, Matt’s epic tips – training, Matt’s epic tips part 2, swimmers clean up junior categories at 2017 Aotearoa Maori sports awards, Upokongaru school Whanganui excels in aquatic education, supplements warning from drug free sport NZ, Wellington primary schools get moving at ‘big day out’, Splash Palace swim teachers prepare for busy summer and flight centre foundation Halberg water skills for life.

All these are good and proper newsworthy events. However the Swimming New Zealand engine has stopped and there is a bloody great hill directly in our line of flight. The sport is in a performance crisis and there is no sign of the open, honest appraisal and action so vital at times like this.

Swimming commentators are complicit in the neglect. The overwhelming topic that needs to be discussed is the poor performance of the sport’s best swimmers. The discussion needs to be detailed and wide-ranging. Instead commentator’s reports scan quickly over the problem areas before going into great detail about good swims by New Zealand’s disabled and junior swimmers. Reporting the good news is, of course, valid and important. However commentators need to realise that unless the senior problems are addressed the successful juniors will not have a future.

Communication carries with it a responsibility to lead, especially where there are problems.  Swimming New Zealand and media commentators are currently failing the sport in that duty. And that pisses me off.

The Pain Goes On

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

You will be aware by now that the first Commonwealth Games trial in Auckland resulted in no swimmers qualifying for the Games’ team. This week the second installment of the New Zealand trials took place at the Queensland State Championships. I know that sounds odd but in the world called Swimming New Zealand the bizarre often passes as normal.

New Zealand had about a dozen swimmers competing in the open events. The table below shows the times swum by the New Zealand swimmers who qualified to swim in open event finals. And as you can see their qualifying success was no better than it had been in Auckland. No one qualified for the Commonwealth Games team. So there we have it, two Swimming New Zealand trials have come and gone and not one swimmer has been added to the Commonwealth Games team.

Swimmer Event Swimmer’s Time Women’s QT Men’s QT
Transom 50 Fr Women 26.31 25.02
Transom 100 Fr Women 56.35 53.91
Transom 200 Fr Women 2:03.70 1.57.88
Hyde 200 Fr Men 1:52.63 1.46.84
Mincham 200 Fr Men 1:52.97 1.46.84
Robinson 400 Fr Women 4:17.23 4.08.07
Mincham 400 Fr Men 3:55.20 3.46.96
Hyde 400 Fr Men 4:00.90 3.46.96
Robinson 800 Fr Women 8:36.04 8.31.68
Mincham 1500 Fr Men 15:35.83 15.08.35
Gichard 100 Bk Women 1:02.30 59.82
Ashby 100 Bk Men 57.12 54.20
Gichard 200 Bk Women 2:14.97 2.08.92
Dorrington 200 Bk Men 2:08.39 1.58.83
Borlase 100 Br Women 1:15.72 1.07.06
Layton 100 Br Men 1:02.67 1.00.16
Layton 200 Br Men 2:13.15 2.10.56
Wang 200 Br Men 2:25.27 2.10.56
Borlase 200 Br Women 2:39.08 2.24.93
Ashby 200 IM Men 2:06.24 1.59.29

For a variety of reasons I was especially interested in the performance of four swimmers – Mincham, Gichard, Ashby and Robinson.

I don’t know Robinson but have watched her swim often enough and have always been impressed by her honest determination. I also liked the commitment she showed by going off to Australia to train. She might not have the talent of Lauren Boyle but her application and resolve seem to me to be very special. In her case I was hoping she would get to the 8.31 required to qualify. And she almost did. She swam 8.36.

Ashby qualified for the Games at the World Championships in July. Like many good swimmers before him he stayed doggedly loyal to the failed Millennium High Performance program. I was interested to see how well his career survived being left in the hands of an intern after Jerry Olszewski decided Swimming New Zealand was not what the American wanted. Dozens failed before Ashby but perhaps he was going to defy the odds. Sadly that does not look to be the case. In fact Ashby appears to have had a terrible meet. Perhaps he was swimming 100kms a week through the meet. It would take something like that to explain such a dramatic drop in performance. To swim two seconds away from his personal best and three seconds off the qualifying time in the 100 backstroke is not good. But of far more concern is being seven seconds (5.6%) away from his personal best and the qualifying standard in his favourite event, the 200 medley. Even swimming 100kms barely explains that gap. But we should not be surprised. If Ashby does have a problem he joins a long line of fine swimmers who have suffered the same fate at the hands of Swimming New Zealand’s disastrous experiment in training competitive swimmers. The table below shows Ashby’s numbers.

Ashby 100 Bk Men 57.12 55.07 54.20
Ashby 200 IM Men 2:06.24 1.59.24 1.59.29

My interest in Mincham and Gichard was because of their coaching history. Both swimmers had made a decision to leave coaches I respect and admire and join a coach that I do not like. Mincham left Judith Wright, coach of the Waterhole Club in Auckland and Gichard left Noel Hargrave-Booth, coach of the Greendale Club in Hawkes Bay. Both coaches have successfully coached many fine swimmers and have displayed the traditional values characteristic of New Zealand’s best sport’s coaches. Certainly the careers of Mincham and Gichard prospered under their direction.

But both swimmers decided to join David Lyles. You may remember he was made redundant by Swimming New Zealand; a decision he contested in Court and lost. Shortly after he left Swimming New Zealand I paid him $3000 of my money to coach my team while I was overseas. In my opinion that was a waste of money. His performance was not what I expected. Is it too late to ask for a refund?

Anyway Mincham and Gichard have now been with Lyles long enough for us to see whether the change of coach is working. Clearly, in the early part of a transition, swimmers are still receiving a benefit from their previous coaching. But after time the swimmer’s performance is all down to the new regime. So how is the new program working out in this case? Not too well it seems. The table below shows the numbers.

Gichard 100 Bk Women 1:02.30 1.00.51 59.82
Gichard 200 Bk Women 2:14.97 2.10.87 2.08.92
Mincham 200 Fr Men 1:52.97 1.51.80 1.46.84
Mincham 400 Fr Men 3:55.20 3.58.13 3.46.96
Mincham 1500 Fr Men 15:35.83 15.32.00 15.08.35

Five swims and only one personal best; five swims that average a huge 4% slower than the qualifying standard; a 1500 national champion who is close to the length of the pool behind the qualifying time and a 100 backstroke specialist who is four meters away from qualifying. Even for a master of spin it’s going to be hard to turn that into a feel-good story.

There will be some who find this post too harsh. But that is deliberate. For too long Swimming New Zealand has conned the sport with its spin. Their deception has got us nowhere. Too many swimmers like Gichard, Mincham and Ashby have been hurt deeply in the process. It’s about time the sport faced up to the reality of its position and did something about it. Our two previous posts have suggested one option for a way ahead. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for Swimming New Zealand to tell us their plan – if they ever have one.

In Need of Repair

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

In my previous Swimwatch post I discussed the underlying malaise that has brought the sport to a position where it holds trials for international events and no one can swim fast enough to qualify. I pointed to the Swimming New Zealand policy of sole centralized Millennium training as the principal reason for the problems. I supported that assertion with an explanation that the centralized training policy has had two destructive consequences that have gutted swimming in New Zealand. First the national sole provider concept has not worked. And second the effort put into trying to make the sole provider concept work, has wrought destitution on the rest of the sport. The regional club programs and coaches that breed and nurture championship swimmers have been neglected. The sport’s infrastructure has been laid bare and is not performing as it should and as it once did.

So what can be done to reverse the neglect and revive swimming into a healthy, prosperous and successful sport? Here is what I think is needed.

  1. Dismantle the socialist centralized national training squad. Find club homes for the coach and the swimmers currently working in the Millennium program. Hold a small party not to recognize the passing of something bad, but to welcome something new and better and to recognize the good New Zealanders who committed their careers to the Millennium program. The idea was a bad one but that in no way should diminish the efforts of the swimmers. Their commitment was exemplary and should be recognized.
  2. Organize a national roadshow of five or six conferences around New Zealand involving every club and every coach. Each conference would explain the change in Swimming New Zealand policy; a change from a socialist, centralized model of elite training to a “Swimmers First” private enterprise, diversified, club-based program. The clubs should be made aware that the performance of every club is now the first and foremost priority of the national federation. The performance and success of swimming in New Zealand is now down to the clubs. Swimming New Zealand is relying on them and needs their help. A commitment to the “Swimmers First” program will involve the clubs in some new responsibilities and some new rewards.
  3. Responsibilities: The new structure should be managed by policies and procedures used around the world to manage multi-site corporations. In the 1980s I was Managing Director of New Zealand’s largest exporter of animal by-products. The company was listed on the New Zealand stock exchange and had offices in Sydney and Yokohama and various businesses in ten New Zealand towns. The procedures used there to manage the business would work well in the case of a diversified Swimming New Zealand competitive program. Each club signing onto the “Swimmers First” program would be expected to comply with the following reporting procedure.
  • Prepare a simple annual budget showing the expected number of swimmers for the coming year. The budget would also detail the number of swimmers forecast to participate in Division 2, Age Group and Open Championships. And the budget should forecast the time improvements expected from swimmers above a set standard.
  • Each month a simple two page report should be submitted by each club reporting progress against the budget and should include a 400-500 word commentary on the clubs training and competitive performance.
  1. Rewards: There are many others far better than me at deciding what rewards should accrue to clubs joining the “Swimmers First” program. Here are some items that should be considered.

Incentive payments to coaches placing swimmers on national teams.

Discounted access to the Millennium Institute medical and other support services.

Discounted access to the Millennium Pool for club camps.

Free advice by successful coaches brought in from around the world to visit participating clubs. I am thinking of coaches such as Schubert, Salo, Touretski, Bowman and McKever.

Access to the Swimming New Zealand Head Coach whose only function would be to monitor and assist club members.

Discounted travel to Division 2, Age Group, Open Water and Open Pool Championships.

Access to the current normal Sport New Zealand athlete reward payments.

  1. Fee: There should be a fee charged by Swimming New Zealand in addition to the normal club membership fee for membership of the “Swimmers First” program. This fee should be additional to the normal club membership fee.

The program change to a “Swimmers First” private enterprise, diversified, club based program would see the function and purpose of the Millennium Institute change. The facility would become a genuine “performance centre” for everyone. Swimming New Zealand, clubs and individual swimmers could use it for camps, advice and clinics. Swimming New Zealand would operate a facility that would service the sport’s infrastructure; making club programs stronger.

So there you have the skeleton of a change that I believe would begin the process of repairing the sport’s badly damaged infrastructure. I was asked recently at what point would I back off the criticisms of Swimming New Zealand that have frequently characterized the Swimwatch blog. Recent events have demonstrated the reason for my concern. Swimming New Zealand is experiencing first-hand the product of their incompetence and neglect. The minute Swimming New Zealand introduce measures that lead the whole sport forward; the minute they show concern for the future of their members, at that moment this blog will be totally supportive. The suggestions here are one way that could be done. There are others. But whatever they are, we need to be told and we need to be told soon.

So How Did We End Up In This Mess?

Monday, December 11th, 2017

The most recent Swimwatch post began with these two sentences.

“This weekend hasn’t been the best for Swimming New Zealand. After ten years of appalling decision making the sport’s chickens are coming home to roost.”

Since the story was published I have been asked, “What does that mean? I know what you mean by no one qualifying for the Commonwealth Games and no one ranked in the world’s top ten and all that stuff, but what do you mean by ‘ten years of appalling decision making’? What is the evidence to support that assertion?”

It is a perfectly valid question. No one should accuse the Board of a national sporting federation of incompetence without having a reasoned argument to support that view. So in less than 1000 words let’s try and explain. But before I do that it is proper to address two qualifications.

First there are a many distracting notions. Every second person has a theory to explain what’s gone wrong. The old timers will tell you the swimmers are not as tough as they used to be. Others will blame competing sports for taking the available talent. One Swimming New Zealand CEO blamed the coaches. They weren’t up to scratch. Some say there are not enough pools and the ones that are available are not good enough. I’ve heard it said that there is no longer any respect for rules, especially rules regarding the safety of women. Several commentators lay the blame at frequent changes in the competition program or excessively hard qualifying standards. Administrators have suggested swimming is suffering from a lack of government money. It would be easy to spend an entire post on the reasons detractors give to explain the sport’s poor performance. And by and large, all of their opinions have merit. BUT they are not the reason for the poor performance. Instead they are symptom’s that arise as a product of an underlying cause. They are symptoms of a more serious malaise. For years Swimming New Zealand has treated the symptoms and ignored the cause. The result of that is, of course, terminal.

Second, in the interests of precision, my explanation of the cause deals in generalities, in principles and in ideas. As is always the case critics will shoot holes in the explanation with a barrage of “what abouts”. These specific and probably valid exceptions should not be allowed to take away from the possibility that the explanation given here has merit.

And so with all that cleared up, here is what I believe has happened to New Zealand swimming that has resulted in the current chaos.

It was Jan Cameron who first began moving New Zealand swimming away from club-based preparation of senior swimmers and towards a centralized Auckland-based program. Using a mix of incentives, persuasion and coercion swimmers were encouraged to leave their regional home and head to Auckland’s North Shore. And it worked. Swimmers left Dunedin, Christchurch, Carterton, Napier, Te Puke and Hamilton to swim in Auckland. Jan’s club, North Shore, dominated domestic swimming.

Jan then used her success to put the case to Swimming New Zealand that her informal North Shore Club procedure should be a blue print for a Swimming New Zealand national plan. If the North Shore Club could dominate domestic swimming using a centralized training model, the country could lead the world by following the same strategy.

Swimming New Zealand bought into the argument. Working with Sport New Zealand the centralized Millennium Institute High Performance policy was prepared and implemented. And for ten years the Swimming New Zealand Board has doggedly tried to make it work. To say they have failed would be kind. After ten years, and at a cost of $15million, New Zealand has just held a Commonwealth Games trial at which no one qualified. That is as bad as it gets.

But why has the centralized Millennium Institute High Performance policy brought us to this state? What is it about the policy that causes so much harm? What is it that the Swimming New Zealand Board could not see or would not accept?

The answer is that the policy has two destructive consequences that have gutted swimming in New Zealand. First the national sole provider concept just does not work. And second the effort put into trying to make the sole provider concept work, wreaks destitution on the rest of the sport. Let’s look at each of these evils.

Understanding why the sole provider concept has been tried and rejected around the swimming world is just common sense. It is impossible to believe that every elite swimmer in the country is going to respond to one Millennium-based coach. For example I’ve heard rumours that Lauren Boyle enjoyed her time with Mark Reagan but did not get on with David Lyles. Swimming New Zealand however demanded that she accept both. Because the centralized Millennium Institute High Performance policy eliminates the choice elite swimmers must be given to choose their coach, the policy failed. One size does not fit all. In New Zealand it appeared that swimmers were being forced to stay at the Millennium Institute because of money, services or education. And that sort of coercion is never going to result in international sporting success.

But the destruction to the sport’s infrastructure has been even more serious. As the national federation’s attention and resources increasingly focused on their personal program in Auckland, club programs in the rest of New Zealand were neglected and abandoned. For example when Alison Fitch left her coach in Hamilton, her home program was denied the benefit of learning from an international swimmer’s journey. When Emily Thomas left Gisborne or Glen Ashby left the Bay of Plenty their coaches were denied the development that comes from guiding the careers of a top swimmer. Repeated a hundred times over ten years and the effect on regional coaches has been devastating.

And in addition to the devastating effect of lost swimmers the hurt has been compounded by the resources being exclusively applied to the Millennium program and by the website and media attention given to the Millennium squad. Over ten years $15million has been spent in one place that could have added untold benefits to a New Zealand wide program. On the internet the outlandish promotion of the centralized program left the clear impression that Auckland was the only place to be if you were serious about winning a swimming race. That was not only a lie, the damage it caused elsewhere was devastating. We even went through a period where Jan Cameron had Swimming New Zealand build a raised dais at National Championships for Millennium swimmers to sit on away from and above the rest of New Zealand. How anyone could believe that wasn’t causing harm is beyond me. Call a person second class for long enough and that’s what they will become.

And so that’s my take on the cause of swimming’s current problems. Repairing the damage is going to require the Board to refocus the attention of the sport on the whole national infrastructure. But more of that in our next post.

Through The Gloom A Beacon Of Light

Sunday, December 10th, 2017


This weekend hasn’t been the best for Swimming New Zealand. After ten years of appalling decision making the sport’s chickens are coming home to roost. The table below shows the qualifying criteria for next year’s Commonwealth Games. The table also shows the winning time at this weekend’s trials in Auckland.

Women’s QT Trial’s Winner Event Men’s QT Trial’s Winner
25.02 26.09 50 Free 22.21 22.54
53.91 56.77 100 48.74 49.61
1.57.88 2.00.09 200 1.46.84 1.50.13
4.08.07 4.17.47 400 3.46.96 4.05.84
8.31.68 8.55.90 800 - -
- - 1500 15.08.35 16.09.00
28.11 29.68 50 Back 25.38 26.51
59.82 1.03.67 100 54.20 56.14
2.08.92 2.16.47 200 1.58.83 2.01.40
31.00 32.27 50 Brst 27.66 29.49
1.07.06 1.10.44 100 1.00.16 1.02.91
2.24.93 2.35.05 200 2.10.56 2.17.55
26.45 27.24 50 Fly 23.82 24.38
58.21 59.58 100 52.13 54.11
2.09.89 2.11.34 200 1.56.76 2.00.00
2.12.18 2.16.26 200 IM 1.59.29 2.04.30
4.38.74 5.04.59 400 IM 4.18.68 4.32.68

So what does the table tell us?

Well first and most obviously no one qualified. I’ve been going to New Zealand trials since 1989 and it’s the first time I’ve seen no one swim a qualifying time. Take a bow Swimming New Zealand. In the 28 years I’ve been at New Zealand trials you have managed a first for the sport. In a gold mine of sporting achievement you have unearthed a real nugget. You have ruled over complete failure; total and absolute destitution.

And second, besides not qualifying, the Board have managed failure so well that the average gap between the performance of the trial winner and the qualifying time is a stunning 4.1%. In a 100 metre race 4.1% is about two seconds or four meters. That is a performance way better than just losing. That’s a real hiding. The Board of Swimming New Zealand has done something superior to any Federation in the world. They have lost better than any of us could have imagined; gold medal losers; at last a podium finish.

And third, I have read comment that the West Wave pool must be old and slow. That’s not true. The pool is not particularly well managed but as a racing facility it is blameless. At this meet the announcer, the organization and atmosphere were actually very good. The problem is the carpenter not the tools.

You would think that in the face of this trial’s disaster a pall of gloom would hang over the sport. But, it appears, every cloud has a silver lining. Because there, lifting our spirits and providing hope came the news that Alex Baumann was leaving High Performance Sport New Zealand. That is the good news. And the really good news is he is going to work for the opposition. He has joined Swimming Australia.

In spite of Paul Collins empty rhetoric that, “Under Alex’s leadership our high performance system has gone from strength to strength,” it is hard to escape the feeling that a rat is fleeing the sinking ship. So what are the facts of Baumann’s five years guiding the fortunes of elite swimming in New Zealand?

First, and most important, Baumann promoted and encouraged the policy of centralised training based at the Millennium Institute. In spite of the overwhelming evidence that the sport was failing Baumann demanded allegiance to the principle of single site elite preparation. And what were the results of Baumann’s obsession?

Well, when he arrived in 2012 Swimming New Zealand had three swimmers ranked in the world’s top ten – Boyle, Snyders and Kean. When Baumann left in 2017 no New Zealanders were ranked in the world’s top ten.

When Baumann arrived in 2012 Mark Regan was the National Coach. In five years Baumann approved the appointment of eight other national squad head coaches. That’s right, eight coaches of the national High Performance program in five years. And at the end of it all Baumann fled to Australia leaving the program’s apprentice coach in charge.

And, of course, the crowning glory, in the last Commonwealth Games’ trial before Baumann arrived thirteen New Zealand swimmers qualified to swim in the Games. In the first trial, after Baumann’s five years, no swimmers have qualified to swim in the Commonwealth Games.

In Baumann’s sport of choice, swimming, his New Zealand legacy has not been good.

I do hope Baumann brings the same level of achievement to Swimming Australia. I hope he successfully transfers his passion for centralized elite training. I look forward to hearing how the two Campbell sisters are getting on preparing for life in a Canberra Institute of Sport twin-share dormitory. And most important of all I look forward to the revolving door of new foreign Head Coaches about to lead the Australian program. Can Baumann improve on his New Zealand standard of eight head coaches in five years? We are about to see.

But back to New Zealand – what does Miskimmin have planned for Swimming New Zealand’s future? Sadly I think there will be little improvement. Michael Scott the ex-Chief Executive of Rowing Australia has been appointed to replace Baumann. What is it with this obsession New Zealand sport has for carpet-bagging foreigners? In this particular case there is an able alternative. Peter Pfitzinger, the deputy CEO of High Performance Sport New Zealand should have been promoted. He is an American but he is no carpet-bagger. He has lived in New Zealand since the mid-1990s. He was a hugely successful two time American Olympic marathon runner. He is married to Christine Pfitzinger who comes from Hamilton and successfully represented New Zealand in middle distance athletics. Compare that background with the families of some foreign imports who left me with the impression that they couldn’t wait to get out of here; back to Australia, Spain, the United States or Canada.

But there is good news coming out of this weekend’s Commonwealth Games’ trials and Baumann’s flight to Australia. New Zealand swimming must have reached the bottom. This has to be as bad as it gets. There is no further down to go. Which means, of course, from this point on things can only get better.